Place The Honeycutters and Foul Mouth Jerk side by side and one can’t help but notice their differences. The former play country roots music while the latter raps and, unless one puts undue emphasis on the “cut” of Honeycutters, even their names reflect opposite sensibilities. But beyond these sonic and stylistic splits, the two Asheville acts have a substantial amount in common.
Honeycutters singer/songwriter Amanda Anne Platt is from Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. — 20 minutes north of Manhattan and not far from the northern New Jersey origins of Foul Mouth Jerk (aka Michael Capra). Both currently reside in West Asheville, where Isis Restaurant & Music Hall brings them closer still by hosting the record release party for The Honeycutters’ Me Oh My on Friday, April 17, followed by the launch of FMJ’s Death By Misadventure the very next night.
“It reminds me of a more old-school time in Asheville,” Capra says. “[With] venues like Be Here Now or The Asheville Music Zone, that was kind of all you’d ever see. You might see [bluegrass/reggae band] Snake Oil Medicine Show on Friday, then [rappers] MC Huggs and the Groove Crust on Saturday, then some national act like Fishbone on Sunday.”
The Honeycutters’ last few local shows have been at Isis, which specializes in Americana and jazz but has been looking to broaden its musical offerings. The venue took a big step forward in that department with Asheville indie rockers The Hermit Kings’ Free For All Fridays residency in January, but other than revered Oakland MC Del the Funky Homosapien’s August 2013 show, hip-hop has rarely issued from its speakers.
Enter Capra, who has lived in West Asheville for 18 years, long before it was a trendy neighborhood. (“I was a proud Worst Asheville resident,” he says, name-checking the area’s former moniker.) Once he learned that a theater-style venue was being built within walking distance of his house, he made a personal oath to do the first big local rap show on its stage.
Isis’ October 2012 opening didn’t line up with his late 2010 album The Oldest Trick in the Book, but Asheville hip-hop collective Granola Funk Express, of which Foul Mouth Jerk is a member, played there during the 2014 All Go West Festival. (Another of the venue’s national hip-hop bookings, Digable Planets rapper Cee Knowledge and his Cosmik Funk Orchestra, performed after GFE that evening.) Fellow GFE member Josh Blake — also a friend of Platt’s — later put Capra in touch with Isis co-owner Josephine Woody, who finalized the Death By Misadventure show.
“To make that actually come to fruition is kind of a big deal for me,” Capra says. “Having that theater gig for a local rap show and to have that turn out well is a really good landmark for us — for the musical community, for the hip-hop community here and for the theater itself.”
He and Platt also cross over to a significant degree. For their latest albums, each used Echo Mountain Studios to lay down tracks that, despite sounding wildly different, share a strong sense of melody and smart songwriting packed with engaging storytelling, complex characters and witty wordplay.
The Honeycutters — rounded out by Tal Taylor (mandolin), Rick Cooper (bass), Josh Milligan (drums) and Matt Smith (pedal steel, electric guitar, dobro) — also logged time at Mixtown Studios. Platt self-produced Me Oh My with an assist from engineer Jon Ashley and recruited local musicians Aaron Wood (guitar), Peter James (guitar), Will Straughan (harmony vocals, resonator guitar) and Mica Hanks (electric guitar) for guest spots. Also appearing are Evan Bradford (trumpet), Durham-based Phil Cook (piano, organ) of Megafaun and Platt’s father, Mark, who recorded harmonica parts while visiting from New York.
Platt says she hasn’t intentionally operated with a strict “go local” approach but looks at working with a talented, mutually supportive and approachable network as a matter of convenience. “There’s not a hierarchy. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I could never get that person on the record.’ It’s ‘I just saw them at the Wedge [Brewery]’ and asked them, ‘Do you want to play guitar?’” she says. “I know people in Nashville, and I like working with them too, but I feel that it’s important to really bolster the music scene now and keep feeding it.”
Collaborating with Echo Mountain engineer Julian Dryer, Foul Mouth Jerk culled beats and guest verses from artists in Raleigh (former Asheville producer Commissioner Gordon), Wilmington (Reef Ali), Newark (Tame-One) and the Bay Area (TopR, Dick Nasty, Brycon, Luke Sick and Z-Man). For the most part, however, he too turned to the local pool, bringing aboard GFE, Philo, Josh Blake and Gus Cutty on the lyrical side, singer Marisa Blake, producers Swilliam Beamon and Chad Hockenberry and scratches from Marley Carroll.
“There’s just such a wealth of talent in Asheville that it almost seems wasteful not to use it,” Capra says. “It provides a rare opportunity where you can get somebody who plays jazz flute on your rap record or you can actually get a pretty awesome banjo player on your rap record. So, it’s just going to sound a lot different than other people’s style.”
While direct country/rap crossover may not be present on Death By Misadventure or Me Oh My, Capra and Platt are open to the possibility. Both are fans of the New York hybrid group Gangstagrass, GFE has been bending and blending genres since the late ’90s and Platt was recently contacted by a Maryland-based producer requesting to sample a Honeycutters song for a hip-hop project.
Asked if she has a rap side, Platt replies, “I wish. I don’t think I’m cool enough.” But she spends a lot of time rhyming in her head and values lyricists who excel at “a concentrated version of songwriting.” As for Foul Mouth Jerk’s country side, he points to his “awesome pit bull puppy” and being a bartender at The Burger Bar (“kind of a country music venue”) as well as a growing fondness for the outdoors.
“I’m kind of getting [more country] the longer I live in North Carolina,” Capra says. “My girlfriend is a beekeeper and a farmer, and she’s raised goats and chickens and pigs, so she’s trying to turn me around on that. She’s pretty awesome in that way, so I’m just going to kind of follow her agricultural lead.”
WHO: The Honeycutters with Aaron Burdett
WHEN: Friday, April 17, at 9 p.m. $15
WHO: Foul Mouth Jerk with GFE, Philo ft. Empire Strikes Brass, DJ Jett and Macon Beats
WHEN: Saturday, April 18, at 9 p.m. $10
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, isisasheville.com